The History of Black Poetry in Los Angeles

rental_theater_emptySaturday night, black Los Angeles poets gathered to celebrate at Beyond Baroque in Venice. Pam Ward, S. Pearl Sharp, V Kali and others came together to celebrate the history of black L.A. poets.

The theme of the night, as stated by Pam Ward, was that if no one is documenting our history, then we need to document it ourselves. As she explained at the outset, when she did some research on black L.A. poetry she didn’t find much. There were gaps, she knew, in the historical record.

The readings kicked off by documenting other, older contemporary and historic black poets. Each poet read a poem or two, starting with S. Pearl Sharp, channeling Ruby Dee, as she read Dee’s “Calling All Women.” With the same sass and attitude that appropriately captured the no-nonsense sassy strength of Dee’s call to action for all women to stand up for themselves, she displayed the strength of the words and message, kicking off he night in roaring fashion.

Not long after, Food4Thot stepped up to the podium and channeled the deep, booming voice of Kamau Daaood. With his captivating voice engulfing the room, he elevated the importance of the words as he read Daaood’s “Leimert Park,” nearly sending the same chills through me as when I saw Daaood read live for the first time nearly a year ago, at the same podium, talking about place and the people of “Leimert Park.”

I could go on about each and every reader, but as I watched and listened I was enwrapped in their collective perspective. A perspective celebrating the pride of being black, from their many different hair styles to their not forgetting the trials and tribulations they and their friends have gone through, especially as depicted in the poem by Pam Ward, remembering her childhood in Watts. She remembered her father, an architect, taking her to one of the summer cultural festivals that brought black poets and musicians to the stage. This was during the 1960s, the height of the civil rights movement, and she recalled spending time with her father back when Watts was considered a more respectable community.

I thank them all for allowing me to be able to step into their shoes for an evening. To be able to feel and realize how absent each facet of their perspectives and histories are from mainstream America.

However, the evening ended on a powerfully somber note. Pam Ward read a eulogy poem remembering the great L.A. poet and playwright Lynn Manning. He was a writer I was fortunate to meet last year in South Central Los Angeles at the Blk Grrl Bookfair. I found him to be as gentle and kind then, shortly before his death, as Pam Ward remembered him to be. Not bitter at all about losing his vision years ago, in his early twenties, when he was shot in a bar. That didn’t stop him from creating art and leaving a profound legacy.

As the night ended, some in the audience bought books, socialized and conversed with the writers, and generally shut down Beyond Baroque until another day.

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